The current situation
At present, the City of Pittsburgh provides a trap-and-kill service to residents for all animals considered potential “rabies vectors”? (mainly raccoons and groundhogs, but also skunks, bats and foxes), in compliance with Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations, which lay down that any trapped adult rabies vector must be killed. Around 2,000 animals are thus killed by the City every year, not counting those eliminated by private trappers, or the thousands of orphaned offspring left to die after the parent animal has been trapped and removed.
According to City Animal Control, this process of picking up and killing wildlife takes up around 75% of its officers’ time. Any resident can request a box trap and, in exchange for a deposit, the trap will be delivered to them. Once an animal is trapped, the City returns to pick it up and ? in the case of rabies vectors ? kill it. This service does not require an emergency situation or any imminent risk, the property owner merely has to object to the presence of the animal on the property.
Scrap the Trap!
Pennsylvania Game Commission (PAGC) regulations are based on the somewhat antiquated belief that the best way to manage rabies vector populations and the disease itself is to kill. The City’s policy of providing trap rental and pick-up, which obliges them to adhere to PAGC regulations, is rooted in the fact that, for some residents, this is an expected public service that has existed for years. But is it ethical, logical or effective?
Ethical, no. In 2007, the Animal Rescue League, which until then had killed wildlife on behalf of the City, made the laudable decision to end its contract after its board of directors found an inconsistency between killing healthy wildlife at one facility while rehabilitating others at its Wildlife Center.
Also in 2007, HOP! brought Laura Simon, Urban Wildlife Director for the Humane Society of the United States, to Pittsburgh to meet with city council, refuse department and animal control representatives. She presented the “Exclude and Evict”? techniques, logical solutions that have worked well in other cities and states in minimizing human-wildlife conflict over the long-term [see our Exclude and Evict and Rabies sections].
And finally effective, no. The number of trapped animals has remained stable over the years and this is not an efficient means to control the spread of rabies in the long-term (see Rabies section).
But is there an alternative?
Yes, and it is simple: stop the systematic trapping of animals in no/low-risk situations, and start placing the emphasis on education and prevention. While trap-and-kill provides a temporary, band-aid solution, real success lies in attacking the root causes of conflict scenarios with wildlife:
Clean up the City garbage problem! It’s no coincidence that the highest number of complaints come from neighborhoods with waste-strewn abandoned lots or where certain residents keep open garbage cans
Teach residents to avoid situations by using “exclusion”? techniques: repairing holes in roofs and walls, capping chimneys, groundhog-proofing vegetable gardens, etc. HOP! advocates extending City low-income assistance programs to cover the repair of access holes in walls, for example.
Provide simple, safe, no-contact solutions for evicting wildlife from a property once a situation exists.
Animal Control divisions in some municipalities have radically changed their policy from trap-and-kill to a more “hands off / emergencies only” approach. Aurora, Colorado made the change in the 1990s, and has never looked back. The City of Pittsburgh has been making progress in other areas of animal control. Now it’s time to address the antiquated system currently in place for wildlife, and that will only happen if the public pushes for it. Because a large proportion of the public aren’t even aware of the system, the only residents the City ever hears from are the ones who use the system. So if you want to see change and a move toward a more progressive, educational, effective and humane approach to animal control, let your council member know. Links to City council members can be found here.
Photo credit: Laura Simon, HSUS